But I can’t.
Not right now.
My friend Jim Hubley died. He had been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor just a few days before he died. He was unable to communicate, but knowing Jim, when the doctors told him he didn’t have long to live, Jim would have said, “Tell me something I don’t know.”
After all,he was 93.
It’s probably fair to say none of you know who Jim was or why his lengthy presence on the planet is relevant to you. I’ll try to explain.
Jim was a columnist. A great columnist.
He wouldn’t like that praise. He was just an old newspaperman and he often said that nobody gives a good damn about old newspapermen.
But he believed it was an honorable way to make a living.
He began at the old York Gazette and Daily in 1940. Before that, he worked as a night desk clerk at a downtown hotel and a stock clerk at a department store. He figured being a newspaperman would be a fun way to make a living.
He took a pay cut from his shelf-stocking job to take a job at the paper. After a six-week trial, he moved over to sports – his dream job, being a sportswriter.
Over the years, he did just about everything at the paper. He wrote stories and columns, took photos, composed pages, everything. He was sports editor and then city editor.
He started writing a column in 1971. His column was consistently one of the best things in the paper. It reflected his love of this town and his personality. He could seem curmudgeonly and cynical and hard-boiled on the outside, but deep down, like a lot of us, he was sentimental and idealistic.
He knew everybody in town and everybody in town knew him. He knew the pols and the bankers and the businessmen who like to believe they run this place. Those guys were OK, but he had real affection for the characters who made this place what it is – guys with names like Snookie, Mick, Mose and, of course, Lefty.
He recalled the old days, living above a cigar shop on West Market Street. The shop provided him with a lot of material, being home to a pinochle hustlers and horse players.
His days behind the desk at the old Penn Hotel also provided him with a lot of material. He met the notorious fan dancer Sally Rand while working there and bragged about spending the night with her, albeit in a platonic manner.
One of my favorite hotel stories was about an American Legion convention in 1937, when he was summoned to break up a fight between a group of Jewish vets and some World War I vets who were Nazi sympathizers. When he arrived on the hotel’s fourth floor, one of the Jewish vets was holding one of the Nazis out the window and was threatening to plant him on Philadelphia Street. Jim broke it up, and the Nazi lived to be a moron another day.
Jim later joked that he regretted not letting the scene play out.
His first brush with the newspaper business was in March 1920, just shy of Jim’s fifth birthday, when he made the front page of both York newspapers. He and his mother were crossing Market Street when he was hit by a trolley. Broke his leg. He still felt it on damp days all these years later.
His most vivid memory of the accident was an employee of a local butcher shop running out into the street and shoving a cold hot dog in Jim’s mouth, apparently in an attempt to calm him down. In typical fashion, Jim recalled that an alert policeman recognized the Samaritan as a man wanted on a minor charge and arrested him on the spot.
Jim’s sense of humor was gentle and self-deprecating. He almost burned down his apartment building once when his wife, Doris, went away to visit their granddaughter who was about to bless them with great-grandchildren. His adventure attempting to make coffee was very funny. Coffee, as Jim observed, wasn’t intended to come from a machine on your countertop. It was intended to be served by waitresses at coffee shops.
He and I are kind of connected. He was covering sports in the late ’40s and early ’50s – he was sports editor at the time – when he covered the athletic career of my father, Joe. My dad played football and basketball at York Catholic, and Jim observed that, as a basketball player, my dad was a pretty good football player. (My dad believes he still holds the York College record for fouling out of games.) He gave my dad the nickname “Cinderella” after some late-game heroics on my dad’s part won an important game for what was then known as York Junior College.
I remember asking Jim about it once and he said, “Your dad wasn’t the most graceful athlete. You could tell he was driving to the basket by the bodies in his wake.”
Jim lived through changes in name and ownership of this newspaper, from J. W. Gitt’s Gazette and Daily to the Daily Record owned by a group of lawyers in town, to the now corporate ownership of this paper. All along, he was loyal to his paper because it was just that, his paper. Editors and reporters came and went, but Jim stayed.
He retired, officially, in 1979, on April Fool’s Day. No joke.
He still wrote a weekly column for the paper – banging it out on an old Royal typewriter he bought for five bucks at the World’s Greatest Yard Sale. Over the years, since he started writing a column in 1971, he’d probably written, by his estimation, 2,000 or so columns – maybe a million and a half words. His last column – about the state’s attempts to ban smoking in restaurants and taverns – ran just five days before he died.
Whenever he’d come by the newsroom to drop off his column, he’d always stop to chat. We’d talk about local politics and other stuff. I remember when a former cop was running for mayor – a mayor who would later be indicted for murder for his role in the 1969 race riots in York – Jim knew the guy from his days as a beat cop. He said the guy would probably win because everybody in town knew him. And he added, “Too bad, because he’s a goddamn idiot.”
When it was time for him to go, Jim would always say the same thing, “Keep giving them hell.”
And I’d always say, “I’ll try, Jim. I’ll try.”
NSNC President Mike Argento is a columnist for the York, Pa., Daily Record. This column was adapted from a column that first appeared in the Daily Record a few days after Jim Hubley died.
York (PA) Daily Record